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What could go wrong?

This post written by guest author Clifton B. 

A while back I was working with a friend’s startup, building a web app that helps small businesses connect with their customers without having to pay for dedicated customer service teams. Still in the proof-of-concept stage, the developers had been wondering whether to introduce a handful of premium services to their product for a some time, but didn’t know how they should decide whether or not to take that leap.

(Because this startup is still a little stealth, I’m not allowed to say who it is, or much more than the description above. But that should be enough for this article.)

I tackled this problem by combining two activities I’d recently learned about, one from Gamestorming, which had just left the presses, and one my friends Barbara Holmes and Jeanne Turner at ISITE Design had been polishing and presenting at various meetings and IxDA events: user journeys.

Walking EVERY mile  in your user’s shoes

Considering each step your users will take toward a desired outcome—from awareness of the product or service to becoming a loyal customer—is instrumental in design a pleasant experience, as Barb points out in her article, Mapping the Customer Journey. The customer (or user) journey is a great way to visualize real-life scenarios that could potentially stand in the way between winning and losing a potential user.

But this wasn’t just about designing a great experience. It was about determining whether we should even start building a premium tier to validate a paid service. So I turned to Gamestorming, and found the Pre-Mortem game, a clever twist on the post-mortem summaries we’re all used to seeing at the end of a project.

Pre-Mortem is a simple, straightforward activity meant to identify potential problems before they happen, and start thinking about how they can be avoided. I decide to combine the concept with the user journey, and came up with something I’m actually pretty proud of.

The cyclical user journey

We decided to walk through the four phases of the user journey we’d identified, Awareness, Consideration, Purchase and Renewal, and came up with reasons throughout our personas’ journeys that might prevent them from becoming happy, loyal customers. We wrote short user stories to illustrate our customers’ desires and concerns along the way.

Cyclical User Journey

Why cyclical? Since this would be a recurring cost to our customer, we would need to make sure we’re addressing her needs even after she decides to start paying for the service. So after the Renewal phase, we revisit Awareness, considering not only new features we’d be implementing, but a shifting roster of competitors as well. You’re never finished selling to your users, even after they’ve paid.

Paving the way to engagement

After laying out the phases of the journey, we came up with reasons why the user would abandon the product at any time. Each cause for lost customers was countered with possible actions we could take to keep them around. While the cyclical journey implies all four phases cycle endlessly, with this diagram we treated the Renewal phase as the point where recurring payments come in, abandoning the cyclical approach for a step-by-step analysis of each phase.

Projected User journey

A quick illustration at each phase shows the path of a happy customer, who decides to stick with the product, and that of a customer who decides to leave before the next phase starts. Every destination has its story, and pinning down the stories that lead to abandonment is the first step in discussing how to better serve your users.

Sticking a fork in it

After determining how much work it would take to keep customers around, the team decided not to go through with this feature set, at least not for now. The service is still young, and while it seemed like an attractive option to have a premium tier with lots of extra features, this exercise convinced us that it wouldn’t be worth the initial investment.

While there’s a chance we could have been the next big thing with this premium tier, I like to think I saved the company a lot of time and money which might have other wise been wasted on this effort. We’re still on the lookout for a feature set that will be worth the effort and might pay off in the long run, but it’s good to know that we haven’t sunk a bunch of time and money into one with such a low chance of success.

Now that I’m running my own startup, Revisu, it’s important to me and my co-founder that we see as far as we can down the journey our users will take in becoming loyal customers, identify potential roadblocks, and deal with them before anyone actually reaches them. Hopefully, if we smooth that road out ahead of time, we’ll have much happier customers in the long run.

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Job or Joy

Object of Play:
This game helps you discover what you and your colleagues like best and least about your jobs. When doing something you love, it is easy to get lost in the activity for its own sake, which stimulates creativity and commitment to the task at hand. This can be applied to your work to make it more enjoyable and productive. With Job or Joy, participants share their favorite hobbies, tedious chores, and what they like or dislike about work. This enhances your understanding of your colleagues while uncovering ways to make work more fun.

Number of Players:
5 – 8

Duration of Play:
1 hour

How to Play:
1. Before your meeting, draw a graph with four quadrants. Write “not-work” on the left of the x-axis and “work” on the right. Then write “play” above the y-axis and “not-play” below it.

This gives each quadrant a specific meaning

  • Quadrant 1: Joy – work activities that people enjoy (ex. conferences)
  • Quadrant 2: Hobbies – activities outside of work that people enjoy (ex. reading, biking, cooking)
  • Quadrant 3: Chores – activities outside of work that people don’t enjoy (ex. cleaning)
  • Quadrant 4: Job – work activities that people don’t enjoy (ex. mundane office meetings)

Job and Joy (work) = external to the individual; liking of the activity depends on the situation or attributes of it
Hobbies and Chores (leisure) = internal to the individual; self-motivated activities outside of the workplace

2. Pass out sticky notes and pens to your team members. Ask them to write activities they do that apply to each of the quadrants.

3. After about 5 minutes, have your participants place their sticky notes where they feel the they belong on the chart. For instance, if someone likes cooking, they would put that in the “Hobbies” quadrant. If they don’t like cooking, they would place it in the “Chores” section. Things that people like to do at work go under “Joy” and work activities people don’t like go under “Job.”

4. Ask each person to explain the activities they wrote and why they placed it where they did. Use this discussion time to learn about each other and collaborate on how to make work more enjoyable for everyone.

The writing and discussion time should begin with activities people love to do outside of work and move to more work-oriented activities. This will help everyone think of ways to make their jobs more enjoyable while creating a fun environment.

Online Job or Joy

Start playing Job or Joy immediately online! Clicking on this image will take you to an “instant play” game at, where you can invite participants to play. Here, there will be two icons:

  • Happy face: what you enjoy to do
  • Frown face: what you don’t enjoy to do

Simply drag these to the chart and collaborate about the moves in real time. When finished, your results are organized onto a spread sheet so you can get the most out of your game.

Key Points
When people enjoy what they are doing and become engaged through self-motivation, they can push themselves to form innovative ideas and breakthroughs. Their participation is catalyzed by the activity they are involved in and they channel their personal commitment toward achieving the goal. Discover what your colleagues like/dislike to do in order to better understand who they are and how you can all maximize your joy — both during and outside of work.

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Gamestorming review by agile coach Renee Troughton

Short, thoughtful review of Gamestorming by agile coach Renee Troughton.

“a great composition of a number of games and techniques out there to reach collaborative and innovative outcomes; well worthy of a read for all Agile coaches… It wasn’t that every page for me was a gem, in fact there were probably only a handful of things that I felt I didn’t already know that I could take away and apply on a situational basis. But a handful of things – is a handful more than I had and for me that is still saying something.”

Read the review.

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Boston alert! A practitioner’s guide to gamestorming with James Macanufo

If you live in or near Boston, you’ll have a great (and rare) chance to learn about gamestorming from a true master and co-author of the book. James Macanufo will be speaking March 1st at an Agile New England event.

Creating a culture of creativity and innovation can be a daunting challenge. How can you make it happen with your team and your customers? One tool to add to your kit: Gamestorming. Join Agile New England and author James Macanufo in learning Gamestorming concepts and visual thinking techniques that lead to better understanding, ideas, and experiences. See how these ideas are being applied in the real world to build stronger teams and more meaningful results… and have some fun trying them out! It doesn’t matter who you are – business strategist, designer, agile practitioner – everyone is welcome and will benefit.

This is an awesome opportunity, not to be missed.

Click here to read more and register.

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Gamestorming summary

Nice summary of Gamestorming by Chris Taylor of Actionable Books. Excerpt:

Considering the actual “instruction” part of Gamestorming is only 52 pages, I took a crazy amount of notes as I read through it. Perhaps this speaks to the uniqueness of this book. Perhaps it’s a reflection of how many ideas it sparked for my own life and business. Regardless, I can comfortably say that it’s been a while since I so enjoyed reading a business book.

Actionable books distills business books down into core lessons for quick action.

Read the summary.

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VizThink Dallas, in the house!

Mark Kraemer posted these slides from VizThink Dallas. For more information on the games referenced in this slide deck check out Elevator Pitch and Speed Boat in the Gamestorming Wiki.

This slide deck is a great inspiration and also gives you a good sense of what can be accomplished in a couple of hours.

Don’t miss slide 11!

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‘Wikkid Awesome’ Gamestorming Workshop & Happy Hour in Boston – March 1st and 2nd

NOTE: We had to postpone the January workshop to March. We hope you can still join!

Gamestorming co-author James Macanufo will be delivering a one-day workshop in Boston as part of the WorkBar Workshop series. It is going to be ‘wikkid awesome’ as they say here.

“Work Better” Part One: GAMESTORMING

MARCH 2, 2012 | 10AM – 4PM

Picture taken by Dave Gray

Registration details here:

In addition, there will be a happy hour the evening beforehand starting at 7pm. Sign up here: You do not need to be a registered workshop participant to attend the happy hour.

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Creating a Sharepoint vision using the Cover Story game

Sharepoint analyst and solution specialist Michal Pisarek just wrote a great case study of how he used Cover Story to get people aligned around a shared vision.

“A clear, compelling vision for SharePoint is a must if want to have the best chances of success. However simply asking a bunch of stakeholders the question “So what is the vision for SharePoint?” is probably not going to get you the results that you are hoping for. An effective way to get users to describe their vision for SharePoint is the Cover Story game.”

Read all about it here.

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Facilitating with Constraints

Many fields have long embraced constraints as necessary for creativity. Without bounding the problem you’re trying to solve, it’s difficult to see the big picture, to know where to start, or how to focus your attention – much like trying to write a paper without a thesis. Lately, there is increasing acknowledgement of the importance of constraints such as Jonah Lehrer’s Wired post highlighting the research of Janina Marguc at the University of Amsterdam.

It turns out that constraints are also an engaging and effective way to facilitate a conversation, something I’ve learned working with designer Scott Francisco.* Whether you’re trying to balance a budget, plan a meeting, or design a building, workshop activities that make the constraints visible enable better conversations and decision-making.

Here’s how it works:

1. BOUNDARY: Identify the key constraint that defines the problem you’re trying to solve. For instance, the budget (money), the duration of the meeting (time), the size of the building (area). Then create a boundary like a simple square on a large sheet of paper that represents this constraint at some scale (e.g.: a 1” square = $1000, 10mins, 100 square feet, etc)

2. GAME PIECES: Create “game pieces” that represent the different pieces your trying to decide on: different programs within the budget, different possible activities within the meeting, different spaces within the building. These can be color-coded slips of paper / cardstock / post-its. They must be at the same “scale” as the boundary so you can see the relative size of each idea or component. (This may help you realize that one proposed program would take up most of your budget, for instance.)

3. GAME PLAY: Gather a representative group of 12 – 18 stakeholders committed to finding a solution that works by the end of the exercise. Then, play out different scenarios arranging the components to see what “fits” inside the boundary constraint. This can be as one group or with teams working in parallel then comparing and combining results. Along the way, you can discuss and document the merits of each component, the trade-offs, and other options. Do this multiple times to take the pressure off getting it right the first time and photograph each iteration so that you can compare.

4. BONUS ROUND: As an additional option, once you’ve agreed on what fits inside the boundary constraint, you can also continue the discussion to relate the different elements by arranging the components on a sheet; for instance, which programs within the budget depend on each other? What should the sequence of meeting activities be? What spaces within the building should be next to each other?

By making the constraints visible and tangible, you enable a better conversation and unlock the creativity of your group to solve problems together. You also have a visible record of the decisions made as well as a shared sense within the group of what’s involved, how the different components go together, and what’ve you’ve agreed on.


*  Scott Francisco developed a space planning facilitation tool called the Sandbox which uses a kit of parts to try out different workplace design concepts within a limited amount of space. You can read more about it here and here. We subsequently took the principles of the Sandbox and applied it more broadly to the kinds of exercises described above.